Illinois gubernatorial hopeful Bruce Rauner is peddling nonsense about politicians and term limits


I don’t know much about Bruce Rauner (above), a Republican candidate for governor of Illinois, but two things I do know about him aren’t good:

He claims that he’s “not a politician,” and he’s in favor of term limits.

Any candidate for elected office who says he’s not a politician doesn’t know what he’s talking about or is falsely trying to ingratiate himself with the fools who think the world of politics would be better off without politicians.

The very act of proverbially throwing your hat in the ring makes you a politician, and rhetoric to the contrary doesn’t change that fact. The governorship of Illinois is a political post, and only politicians need apply.

This nation’s Founding Fathers were politicians. Some of them were even “career politicians,” which is another ridiculous pejorative these days — as if a career in politics is ipso facto a dishonorable undertaking. Thomas Jefferson was a career politician. Over a period of more than 35 years, he held more public offices than most any current politician you could name.

Abraham Lincoln was another career politician. He lost most of the elections in which he ran, but he served in the Illinois Legislature and the U.S. Congress before becoming president. He was also a master at playing politics — that is, at swaying public opinion to his advantage.

As Lincoln once said: “He who moulds public sentiment, goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. He makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed.”

When a politician “moulds public sentiment,” as Lincoln put it, he is playing politics.

Let’s not be so naive as to think of politics as something that by definition is bad.

And then there’s Rauner’s support for term limits. This, too, is born of political naivete.

But term limits are a terrible idea, as I’ve argued here on several occasions. And on most of those occasions, I’ve invoked the words of Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of modern Republican conservatism (at least he was before the GOP went completely bonkers in recent years).

In his presidential farewell address in 1989, Reagan rightly argued that terms limits are “a preemption of the people’s right to vote for whomever they want as many times as they want.”

Granted, Reagan was talking in favor of repeal of the 22nd Amendment, which imposes term limits on presidents, but the principle he articulated logically applies to all elected officials. And it’s amazing that more Americans don’t recognize that  simple principle:

Legislation or a constitutional amendment that imposes term limits at any level of government would merely diminish the political power of ordinary voters.

Besides, in a sense, we already have term limits. They’re called “elections.” We can invoke them to limit the terms of public officials whenever we want — or not limit the terms, if we so choose. Why would we saddle voters with an arbitrary barrier to their re-electing officials they want to re-elect? After all, unpopular incumbents never get re-elected anyway. The absence of term limits doesn’t force us to re-elect people we don’t want to re-elect.

Term limits also amount to breaking faith with the nation’s Founding Fathers. The drafting of our Constitution was born of an effort to correct the shortcomings of the Articles of Confederation. And the architects of the Constitution specifically omitted term limits, despite their having been included in the Articles.

There are numerous other reasons why term limits are undesirable. They would eliminate the good politicians along with the bad. They would enhance the power of bureaucrats, staffers and lobbyists. They would result in a costly loss of knowledge and experience in government.

As for Bruce Rauner’s overall qualifications for governor — or lack thereof — I’ll judge those matters as time goes on. But so far, I’m not favorably impressed.




  1. Jeff Karova

    Sorry, I agree with term limits. When individuals spend too much time in office, corruption is inevitable. The strength of democracy is that power is handed, peacefully, to different groups of people at regular intervals.

  2. Jeff Karova: So you disagree with Ronald Reagan that people should have the “right to vote for whomever they want as many times as they want.”

    I guess that means that you also disagree with the Founding Fathers having specifically declined to include term limits in the Constitution, despite their having been included in the Articles of Confederation.

    I guess you like the idea of politicians writing laws that limit the choices of future voters.

    And you think that strengthens democracy?

  3. Brian Opsahl

    we do have term limits….as we chose every 4 years for the Presidents
    every 2 years for congress.
    every six years for the senate….?

  4. Jeff Karova

    Brian: Re-election isn’t a term limit. Term limits restrict the number of times a person can run for re-election. The central argument of this article is that term limits aren’t Constitutional and that people should be able to run for office as many times as they want. I just don’t agree.

    Pat: I do disagree with Ronald Reagan – about a lot of things. I feel term limits strengthen democracy more than they limit freedom: they focus the individual on achieving the goals they ran on instead of simply clinging to power. When individuals in a society can trust that power can and will be transitioned to different individuals without any single individual or group monopolizing it, civic engagement flourishes.

    Perhaps the Founding Fathers wanted to give America the freedom to choose term limits rather than impose or restrict them Constitutionally. The Constitution protects our rights, it shouldn’t take them away and I’m not sure the unlimited ability to run for re-election is a right that should or shouldn’t be Constitutionally enshrined.

    The longer a groups stays in power the more they begin to use the machinations of government to stay there instead of affect social change. Power corrupts.

    If people want to keep a certain group which adheres to certain ideologies in power, our system allows for this through the various parties. It’s not a perfect solution but it at least keeps any one individual from dominating the political debate.

  5. Brian Opsahl

    They are a form of term limits that we the people get to choose…we vote and whoever wins stays those who loose go…!!!

    The concept of forceing one out NOT by a vote is not very American…our way has worked for over 237 years..

  6. Jeff Karova: None of your arguments changes the inescapable fact that term limits are a limit on the rights of voters to elect whomever they want.

    Moreover, some of your arguments are just silly gibberish. Take, for example, this run-on sentence: “The Constitution protects our rights, it shouldn’t take them away and I’m not sure the unlimited ability to run for re-election is a right that should or shouldn’t be Constitutionally enshrined.”

  7. Jeff Karova

    Pat, I could make the argument that just getting on the ballot in most places represents a greater threat to our freedom to vote for whom we want than term limits.

    Term limits, in my opinion, reinforce that oft-quoted, very true maxim that “power corrupts.”

    Criticize my grammatical choices as you’d like, but my point is not gibberish. I’m saying that the right to run for re-election interminably is not Constitutionally enshrined while the 22nd Amendment wisely limits the President’s ability to run for re-election. Why shouldn’t this be true for all offices?

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